Hitchin MS sufferer: ‘New lifts won’t help wheelchair users without more staff’

Ann Norman outside Hitchin Railway Station

Ann Norman outside Hitchin Railway Station - Credit: Archant

A wheelchair-bound MS sufferer was unable to get a train from Hitchin railway station using the newly installed lifts – due to a lack of staff.

Ann Norman, who lives in the town, was told she could not travel to Biggleswade on Friday by train as there wasn’t enough members of the staff to help her on at Hitchin.

The 78-year-old was due to get off the train at Arlesey – where operators Great Northern claim the staff shortage problem related to – and get a wheelchair accessible taxi to her final destination.

Mrs Norman, who was diagnosed with neurological condition multiple sclerosis in 1983 which means she is now unable to walk, was travelling to Biggeslwade – which does not have step-free access – to present a cheque for Hitchin Shopmobility, where she is chairman.

Instead of travelling by train, Mrs Norman was sent on two “white knuckle rides” by taxi from Hitchin to Biggleswade and back, without wheelchair restraints and seat belts.

She made the journey two weeks after passenger lifts costing £1.7m were unveiled at the station, providing step-free access to both platforms.

Mrs Norman said: “So the millions of pounds which have been spent on the new lifts won’t improve things for wheelchair users without more staff. We have waited so long for the lifts, but what is the point if there is no-one there to help you on or off?

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“Why didn’t they just make a new entrance on St Michaels Road along with extra car parking spaces which are desperately needed especially on weekdays? Surely this would have been cheaper.

“This could have restored the station’s earlier accessibility to the southbound platform and perhaps the £1.7m could have been better spent on employing more staff to help with ramps giving wheelchair users the access to the station and trains that they once had.

“Instead it really was a white knuckle ride in the taxi and I felt very vulnerable during the journey. I just wanted to get out. I’m now trying to think how I am going to get to Stevenage next month for a meeting without having to ask my husband to pick me up and drop me off.”

Larry Heyman, a spokesman for Great Northern said: “We are extremely sorry that Mrs Norman’s recent journey from Hitchin to Biggleswade was unsatisfactory and we have taken immediate steps to ensure that lessons are learned so that neither she nor any other passenger can have a similar negative experience. We have offered Mrs Norman a refund of the return fare plus £25 in rail travel vouchers, which she has accepted.”

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